Note: Yes, this post is very behind the times, but I figured in lieu of timeliness I’d post it on a national holiday.
I’ve always debated whether it’s better to experience large-scale events in person or on television, but when given the opportunity to go to Washington, D.C. for the 57th presidential inauguration in person my answer was, “the couch will just not do.” So there I was, on a Monday morning in January, standing with thousands in the cold, all freezing our butts off, and wishing for our couches.
But I was with my mom who had pictures of my grandparents in her pocket so they could experience this little slice of history with us. And that night, we attended the inaugural ball, saw Alicia Keys, and watched the President and First Lady dance to “Let’s Stay Together.” In the course of a day, I got to experience sights and sounds I will never forget. And, cheese-fest coming, I got to experience it all with my mom, good friends, and a few famous-for-DC people.
Yes, it was cold, yes, there were crowds and yes, my feet hated me. But it was epic. And a reminder that I never want to be the person who opts for the couch.
I thought for a long time about to organize my pictures and impressions and in the end decided to start at the beginning.
Saturday, January, 19, 2013
First of all, it’s a lot easier to attend the inauguration than you may think. Each member of congress (your US Representative, and your state’s two Senators) is allotted a number of tickets for constituents. After a presidential election, you can call in late November / early December and get your name on the list.
Because my mom had Marriott reward points, we got a great deal on a hotel and decided to stay in Dupont Circle rather than on Capitol Hill. I lived in D.C. for a year and wanted to be back in my old hood for a bit. This ended up being a good decision on our part: Dupont, while typically one of the more highly-trafficked neighborhoods in the District, was nowhere near as packed as Capitol Hill or Downtown. It was a nice respite at the end of the day.
We arrived on Saturday and headed to Bistro Du Coin for some amazing French food.
/// Bistrot Du Coin, 1738 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20009, (202) 234-6969
We started off Saturday night at the bar in the middle of Union Station, which while super-touristy, was a great people watching spot. We were treated to a steady stream of Texans in full Texas-regalia on their way to the Black Tie & Boots Inaugural Ball.
The rest of the evening was spent visiting such historic sites as the Irish Times and the Dubliner.
Sunday, January 20, 2013
Sunday began back at Union Station. It’s just a great spot to meet people because it’s so convenient and everyone knows where it is. This weekend it was all decked out for the festivities and I attempted the capture the scale of the world’s largest American flag (TM: me).
Get ready for some gratuitous big flag pictures, Americans.
More brunch! More French food! This time we hit Bistro Bis, which I would recommend highly due to its awesomeness and convenient location right around the corner from Union Station.
/// Bistro Bis, 15 E St NW, Washington, DC 20001, (202) 661-2700
Ask yourself: If you’re on vacation and not having brunch on the regular, are you really on vacation? Also, what is this sorcery the French put in their salad dressings? Is it the anchovies?
The only item on the agenda for the rest of the day was picking up our official inaugural ceremony tickets which meant we had Sunday afternoon to just walk around, explore, and feel the feelings of being in D.C. on the weekend of the inauguration. For natives, I bet it’s a mix of annoyance and pride. For tourists, it’s jubilation. Also a little annoyance at slow walkers, but mostly excitement to just be there in the thick of it. We meandered across the Capitol lawn and soaked it in.
Excuse me tree, but I am trying to take a picture of our nation’s Capitol building.
Ah, that’s better. I challenge anyone to stand in front of this building and not get a little wistful and patriotic feeling. If you don’t get a bit misty-eyed, you should probably pack it in and move to Canada or see a therapist immediately if not sooner.
Despite the fact that when I lived there, I jumped at the first ticket back to New York City I could get, I can admit that I really love visiting D.C. It’s just a gorgeous, interesting, highly walkable city.
We made it over the other end of Capitol Hill to pick up our tickets, and here is what they looked like:
Later that evening, we attended a reception for Connecticut people who had traveled to D.C. thrown by the entire congressional delegation, and then ate pizza at a restaurant that claimed to serve “authentic New Haven Pizza.” Spoiler alert: they don’t. Pizza places of the world: If you style yourself a “New Haven pizza” joint and there’s a chance a large group of people from Connecticut may patronize your restaurant, you better bring it.
Our final destination was a bar in Columbia Heights, so we roamed the metro system in a big pack of Connecticut-ers, following a person we elected as leader because he had been to D.C. more recently than the rest of us. You know how it is when you travel and you end up following someone you think may know more than you? And then 10 minutes in you’re like, “Why are we following this guy?” I think this is a pretty universal experience. We ended up in at the bar just in time to watch the Patriots lose the AFC championship. Luckily I am a Giants fan.
Monday, January 21, 2013
Monday was the Big Day. My mom and I left our hotel at 7 a.m. and rode the Metro back to Capitol Hill.
This was our view walking from the Metro to the security gates to get onto the west front of the Capitol. This quote from the Washington Post describes the scene pretty well:
Against a landscape of bare trees and red, white and blue bunting, they came carrying children on their shoulders, pushing the sick and elderly in wheelchairs, and bearing innumerable cups of coffee. – Washington Post
I have to give D.C. some serious respect on their signage. This city really knows how to move people around. There were 4-5 different colored tickets to get into the event, and there was no way you could get lost or end up in the wrong colored section with the amount of signs they had up. Color coding for the win!
By a stroke of luck, my mom and I ran into the rest of our group just as we were exiting the security screening area and about to cross the street to get onto the Capitol lawn around 8 a.m.
And then, we waited. The ceremony didn’t start until 11:30 a.m., but we were in our spots by 8:15 a.m. This was our view, and these were actually pretty good tickets:
There wasn’t much to do except talk to your new neighbors and listen to an idiot who climbed a tree to protest the event. This dude screamed obscenities for four hours. He even screamed during the invocation. What a jerk.
Then, around 11 a.m. the fun started. As dignitaries began taking their places on stage, everyone in the crowd got a lot happier and chattier (“Look! it’s Hilary Clinton! And her husband, Bill!”). The booming voice of the tree screamer receded into the background as we all remembered why we were standing there freezing. The actual ceremony was fairly quick. After the President took the oath of office, my mom and I looked at each other, both tearing up (because we are cheeseballs), and then high-tailed it out of there there to a viewing party with comfortable chairs, flat screen televisions, food, and a hot chocolate bar. This was hands-down the BEST PART OF THE TRIP. After standing outside in the cold for 5 hours, you really grasp just how wonderful warmth and seating are.
At this point we had one event left: the Inaugural Ball. So we left Capitol Hill and headed back to our hotel to get ready.
I’m not gonna sugar coat this, the ball was by far my least favorite part of the experience. Let me set the glamorous scene for you: we were herded like very well-dressed cattle into an airplane-hanger sized-space with 35,000 other people (although honestly, it didn’t feel that crowded) and then we stood in front of a stage and watched the performances, wearing very expensive clothing. It was like going to a concert in a cocktail dress.
But, we did get to see Alicia Keyes doing her famous “Obama’s On Fiyahhhhhhhh” routine. And we go to see the President and First Lady dance to “Let’s Stay Together.” Side note: I wonder how many Republicans had their wedding song ruined that night? Ahahahahahaha.
Where We Went in Washington, DC
Bistrot Du Coin
1738 Connecticut Ave NW
Washington, DC 20009
15 E St NW
Washington, DC 20001